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Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias, whose two children are enrolled in Fresno Unified schools, is adding his voice to the growing chorus of parents and others who say it’s time for the district to reopen campuses to in-person instruction.

Arias will be joining parents clamoring for schools to reopen at a City Hall news conference Friday afternoon. They are urging the district, California’s third-largest, to set aside its current reopening plan and a labor agreement that would postpone in-person instruction for many students until Fresno County reaches the orange tier in the state’s reopening plan.

Photo of Councilman Miguel Arias and his son

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias and son, Diego, in 2020 (Image: City of Fresno)

The orange tier denotes that the risk of coronavirus infection is moderate. Fresno County has never been in the orange tier and has remained for months in the purple tier, denoting widespread infection risk.

Gov. Newsom Urges Reopening During Fresno Visit

The sense of urgency over returning to face-to-face instruction was echoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday morning during a visit to Fresno.

‘With respect, our kids can’t wait,” Newsom said. “They can’t afford another day, another week, another month without the social emotional benefits of being safely in school and in person. We can get this done.”

Newsom said he has been in negotiations with the Legislature since December on a $6.6 billion plan that he believes will pave the way for most elementary schools across the state to reopen. An announcement could come early next week, he said.

Arias Careful with Criticism of Fresno Unified

Arias is being careful not to be overly critical of Fresno Unified, which he praises for stepping forward last spring to expand its school meal program to feed adults as well as children at a time when many risked going hungry.

But with infection rates now declining in the county, ample safety protocols and materials on hand at schools, and with school staffers being prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, now is the time for the district to shift gears and reopen schools, he said.

“We’re confident the district can do this,” Arias said.

But reopening now will require revision of an agreement with the Fresno Teachers Association that was signed by Superintendent Bob Nelson and union president Manuel Bonilla in January and that commits the district to reopening no sooner than the orange tier.

Fresno Unified Side Letter with Fresno Teachers Association

Arias said renegotiation of such agreements typically can take months, but he said the district and teachers union are capable of doing so in a matter of days, paving the way for schools to reopen quickly.

The side letter agreement to the teachers contract spells out the safety protocols that will be in place once schools reopen, on-site or remote teaching options, and accommodations for teachers deemed at high risk.

Under the agreement, Fresno Unified agrees to pay teachers up to $2,750 in additional compensation if they simultaneously teach students in the classroom and students who remain on distance learning by parental choice.

Clovis Unified, which rolled out simultaneous teaching last fall in elementary school classrooms, is not paying extra to those teachers, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants told GV Wire℠.

Pressure Mounting on District

Friday afternoon’s news conference is the latest in a growing movement in the community to pressure Fresno Unified to follow other local school districts and reopen to in-person instruction. That included a proposal last week by City Councilman Garry Bredefeld for the city to file suit against Fresno Unified to force it to reopen, similar to action taken recently by San Francisco’s council.

Arias said he rejected Bredefeld’s proposal because “you don’t start a conversation with a lawsuit.”

He said he has spent the past two weeks talking with parents and district officials, visiting schools, and reviewing the district’s reopening plan and labor agreement. It quickly became clear that the reopening plan doesn’t take parents, many of whom are essential workers who can’t remain home with their kids, into account, he said.

With the rest of the economy reopening, schools need to follow suit, and the district needs to recognize the inequity imposed on thousands of Fresno Unified parents when schools remain shuttered, Arias said.

He said that three-fourths of Fresno Unified teachers don’t live in the district, so their children may already be back in school. Plus, he had heard that some union officials were lobbying not to return until next fall.

“It’s difficult to explain why a schoolteacher’s child is back at school, but your child is not,” Arias said.

Parent Involvement Growing

The parents that Arias has been hearing from include Marcelino Valdez Jr., who recently started a private Facebook group, Parents for Re-Opening Fresno Unified.

Valdez, who has three children enrolled in Fresno Unified schools, said he heard about nearby districts resuming in-person instruction and wanted to know why that wasn’t also happening in Fresno Unified.

He learned about the district’s side letter with the teachers union, which he said occurred when the county had skyrocketing infection rates and no vaccine in sight. But in less than two months, much has changed, and the district needs to take that into consideration and renegotiate the agreement, Valdez said.

Time is of the essence, he said. “Here’s what I’ve been telling parents, this has to happen before the March 10 next school board meeting. Because after that, we’re getting close to the Easter break. After Easter break in the fourth quarter, you’re going to have finals for seniors and all these different things. You’re getting to the point where it’s too late, it doesn’t make sense to reopen.

“I think if we have any meaningful chance of reopening, it has to be done when we return for Easter break.”

Nelson, Bonilla, and Fresno Unified board President Valerie Davis could not be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.

6 Responses

  1. John Smith

    Somebody needs to explain to parents Fresno Unified School District is not going to just bring everyone back all at once. Since our classes are already at capacity, it is impossible to bring everyone back and distance all students. All schools are going to have a hybrid model which will require students to be home half the week.

    Most parents that know this prefer to just do distance learning for the rest of the school year because it will be too difficult for parents to schedule around a hybrid model where you have your student home some days and at school on other days.

    As an educator, I refuse to go back until its safe. I will leave the district if we’re asked to come back too soon. I along with many other educators will not risk our lives just for a job. If the district wants us to risk our lives, give us hazard pay.

    Reply
    • dave

      don’t let the door hit you on the way out with the threat to leave the district. Since you care about your kids less than the tons of millions of people who have already returned back to work. (esp in less d party socialist states), it seems likely you are a below average teacher. that you then demand hazard pay, tells everyone the only thing you and the teachers union care about is your pocket book and not kids. It also tells us health is not your real concern. holding the rest of the population hostage for money is.

      Reply
    • Cassi Maxey

      You sir are the problem. Any opportunity for my children to go back to school, even if it’s one morning per week, is an improvement over full distance “learning.” There is no situation in which you will be completely safe as a school teacher, there never has been. In fact, you are more likely to get in a car accident driving to school than contracting COVID and dying. And, of course, you’re asking for more money to go back into the classroom. How unsympathetic considering millions are out of work and struggling to feed their families. School districts all over the country, including private schools, have found ways to do meaningful learning in the classroom without outbreaks. Teachers could be celebrated as heroes, much like health care workers have been, if only they weren’t looking for ways to keep kids “learning” at home rather than looking for ways to get back to the classroom.

      Reply
      • John Smith

        No, we won’t be completely safe, but I’m sure most educators would prefer to have one of those fancy pensions like the local politicians have. If they die of covid, their families get a lifetime benefit making their families very wealthy. If I die, my family will get a pathetic 48k life insurance policy.

        School districts all over the country have been opening, you’re right. But don’t forget to mention that on average, they are closing down every two weeks due to covid outbreaks.

        There are in fact a lot of people dying from covid, you might be lucky enough to not have lost anybody. I know a teacher in Sanger that got sick and now only has 30% lung capacity. She is now getting lifetime benefits that are only half of her usual salary. Educators like me want hazard pay because we can’t be the scapegoat for the entire community, my work day doesn’t even end until 7pm because of my dedication to my students. I’m very sympathetic, but educators are tired of being glorified babysitters. I cant tell you how many times I’ve been stuck at my school until 5pm because parents don’t pick up their kids on time.

        Heroes? Thats just a word people use to describe people when they don’t want to pay them enough. As a veteran I was called a hero all the time until I realized that most other veterans were living at the lowest poverty levels. So much for “heroes”.

  2. Fred Scott

    Seems like this article should have some sort of reference to “following the science” and the CDC recommendations that should have had the kids back long ago. Additionally, there are many private (and other non-union) schools that have been safely serving students in person for a while now. Shouldn’t their evidence of success be held up as it supports the CDC recommendations?

    Reply
  3. Greeka

    This distance learning is a joke. So many children are being left behind. The private schools seem to be funcitioning.

    Reply

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